Webdiary - Independent, Ethical, Accountable and Transparent
header_02 home about login header_06
sidebar-top content-top

There’s a riot goin’ on

Chris Saliba's last Webdiary pieces were John Howard's love and disappointment and Future shock: the ideology of Mark Latham. His blog is here.

‘A preventive war is a crime not easily committed by a country that retains any traces of democracy.’ George Orwell

Democracy sure is messy. Last Friday’s Melbourne anti-war protest was proof of that. We all rocked up to the Victorian State Library in Swanston Street at 5:30 pm. It’s a great place to kick off a protest, with its large swathes of rich green grass and the overlooking Greek columns of the state library.

A broad range of characters assembled. Some of the highlights included a band of musicians all dressed in pink pumping out some kind of jolly carnival music; dreadlocked dudes with their African drums; street performers doing, well, whatever it is they do; and a man dressed in some type of protest drag, looking like a cross between Divine and performance artist Leigh Bowery.

If you couldn’t dance, sing or perform, then you could always carry a slogan. Two elderly men meant business with a huge pink banner demanding gay rights. One woman waltzed around with a homemade cartoon of John Howard, the top of his head lopped off with a caption that read, Depleted Weapons Found. My favourite was an innocent, fresh faced young student. How nice, I thought, to see young people so motivated and committed. Then my eyes wandered down to a piece of cardboard she was carrying. Fuck Globalisation! it said. I hope her mother knows she’s out.

Of course protests are going to throw up all sorts of political views. You can’t agree with them all. Some you may find downright stupid. One young man – he couldn’t have been a day over 20 – was wearing a t-shirt with an image of Lenin on it. Lenin! I felt like shaking him by the shoulders and saying, Are you crazy?! Lenin was a total creep. Nor am I reconciled to Che Guevera. His image was of course ubiquitous. What do these totalitarians have to do with democracy? And t-shirts that liken John Howard to Hitler just make me wince.

Armies of activists pushed their various agendas. I’m still on my activist training wheels, and not sure whether I’m ready to sign up for a comprehensive, all out attack. When I got home I had flyers for a Baxter Benefit Gig; a weekend discussion group held by Socialist Alternative; a Green Left Weekly plug for the film If These Walls Could Talk, starring Cher, Demi Moore and Sissy Spacek, to be held at the Resistance Centre; a public meeting to support a fairer shake for East Timor’s oil; and on and on and on. I only came for the anti-war protest. What a jumble of competing interests! I’ve never even given a thought to whether I want to support Iraqi feminists, although I’ve no doubt their cause is a just one.

After all the high-minded talk of democracy, the reality is it means mucking in with people you don’t agree with. Democracy is messy and complicated. Compromise is its middle name. You can’t always get what you want. Sometimes you may have to side with people who wear t-shirts of Lenin.

The speakers were a bit late. We waited maybe ten or fifteen minutes until a woman named Marguerita (apologies if I’ve got your name wrong) launched into a vigorous denunciation of the occupation of Iraq. Speaker followed speaker until Andrew Wilkie took the microphone. I was glad to be able to see Andrew speak. I’d really enjoyed his book, Axis Of Deceit. What a long way he’s come since his early days as a hooligan roughing up an anti-uranium protestors site outside Parliament House. Now he’s with the Greens! Wonders never cease.

Andrew denounced Howard and Downer as war criminals, the whole invasion of Iraq a lie, and the occupation as nothing more than a grab for global hegemony. I suppose Howard and Downer, if indicted, could at least plead that they were only following orders – George W. Bush’s.

As Andrew wrote in Axis Of Deceit:

If the war had a bottom line, this was it: the US now stands to control an oil reserve of genuinely strategic proportions, one set to become valuable beyond measure over the next fifty years as other oil fields eventually and inevitable run dry.


He also wrote of Howard’s lack of interest when it came to foreign affairs, making a joke of our PM’s now professed passion for Iraqi democracy:

John Howard’s complete lack of interest in most off-shore matters was a frequent source of amusement and concern in ONA while I worked there. Time and time again important issues were not assessed because the judgement was made that Howard would not be interested.

After the speeches we all took to the streets. This was the fun part. Our brief was to make as much noise as possible and let all the onlookers know what we were protesting about. No wonder there were so many drummers and trumpeters and various other musos. They’re really good at raising your profile. Everyone yelled anti-war slogans. Half a dozen or so well prepared protestors had their own loudspeakers and their anti-war cries blistered out into Melbourne’s city streets.

It was a lovely evening. Warm and slightly balmy; perfect for a twilight city stroll. I alternated between walking my bike and riding it slowly through the crowd. As the crowd thinned out you got to see a lot more of the different types of people. There was a man pushing a stroller with his toddler in it and another one of his kids walking beside him. A middle aged couple with matching t-shirts that said Aussies For Peace. Quite a few elderly people were out, and lots of young students. As we marched (or really just rolled along in my case) people stood by the side of Swanston Street and looked on as though we were part of some show, which I guess we were.

It felt great to take over the streets of Melbourne. I’m used to dodging cars, buses and trams in Swanston Street. Now people were standing back while we passed. We ruled! I got such a kick out of it I started to think I might be some type of latent anarchist. We walked as far as Collins Street, then everyone attacked the street with chalk, writing their war protests on the ground. While this was going on a group of school kids with Star Wars Stormtrooper cardboard cutouts in front of them ran through the crowd. Next stop was the ANZ bank at the corner of Collins and Queen Street where the bank was given an earful for its war profiteering. After that it was down to Flinders Street and finally onto Federation Square.

After a good two hours it was all over. We’d taken to the streets. We’d made a lot of noise. Inconvenienced a lot of commuters. Got the message across. Maybe some of the people who watched us that night might go home and have another think about what we’re doing in Iraq and if we, as a nation, should be sending more troops and deepening our involvement further.

Previous comments in this thread

[ category: ]
© 2005-2011, Webdiary Pty Ltd
Disclaimer: This site is home to many debates, and the views expressed on this site are not necessarily those of the site editors.
Contributors submit comments on their own responsibility: if you believe that a comment is incorrect or offensive in any way,
please submit a comment to that effect and we will make corrections or deletions as necessary.
Margo Kingston Photo © Elaine Campaner

Recent Comments

David Roffey: {whimper} in Not with a bang ... 14 weeks 21 hours ago
Jenny Hume: So long mate in Not with a bang ... 14 weeks 1 day ago
Fiona Reynolds: Reds (under beds?) in Not with a bang ... 14 weeks 3 days ago
Justin Obodie: Why not, with a bang? in Not with a bang ... 14 weeks 3 days ago
Fiona Reynolds: Dear Albatross in Not with a bang ... 14 weeks 3 days ago
Michael Talbot-Wilson: Good luck in Not with a bang ... 14 weeks 3 days ago
Fiona Reynolds: Goodnight and good luck in Not with a bang ... 14 weeks 4 days ago
Margo Kingston: bye, babe in Not with a bang ... 15 weeks 1 day ago